The Second Reading of the Childcare Bill took place on Tuesday. Lord Browne of Belmont set out the growing public concern that the childcare provisions in the Bill – which are restricted only to two-earner families – constitute the latest in a long line of developments that disadvantage one-earner families. Quoting CARE and other concerned organisations, he said that one could be forgiven for thinking there is a concerted strategy on the part of government to pressure families where one parent stays home to look after the children, to become two-earner families.
Lord Browne was joined by the Lord Bishop of Durham and Lord True in asking the question: who is at the heart of the policy? Is it the right of the parent to work or the right of the child not to be placed in a position where, as a result of government policy, it is more likely that rather than being looked after by their own parents during the critical early years of 1 to 3, they are instead sent to nurseries. Many stay at home parents have made it clear that they do not want to be in paid employment while their children are young, leading to questions over whether the real issue is not the right of the parent to be in paid employment, but rather the desire of the Government that they should in order to provide a short boost to GDP figures.
The Lord Bishop of Durham cited two mothers who had contacted him about the Bill:
One said: “My concern about the new Child Care Bill is that we are going further down the road of putting pressure on parents and mothers in particular to be valued as economic units rather than having the most important role of parenting their children valued. I did take a break from employment when my children were young and I am very pleased I was in a position to do so although it was to mine and my family’s financial detriment; the value of it to my children’s well being cannot be measured”.
The other said: ‘I am increasingly concerned about the promotion of childcare as it is giving the implicit and not so implicit message that it is better to put your child in childcare and go out to work than stay at home and look after your own children. I would far rather be advocating looking at why the cost of living is so high ie housing crisis etc. which forces people out to work. I’ve had parents ‘apologising’ about their desire to stay at home—as if it’s a sin. I really wonder what kind of society we will have in the next 20 or 30 years if this push for more childcare continues unabated. I feel like the 0-3 year olds in this nation should not be ‘robbed’ of the opportunity to be cared for by their own parents and more could be done to make this possible. They are vulnerable members of our society who seem to have no voice”.
CARE contends that hardworking families are not just those where parents put their children in nurseries from an early age so they can both be in paid employment. Employment is not the only measure of hard work. Families where one parent is in paid work and the second salary is sacrificed so the other parent can invest in the development of their children work equally hard and make an equally valid contribution to society which must also be recognised.
Lord Browne asked the Minister to explain what new offsetting proposals the Government had to help one-earner couple families but sadly a credible answer was not forthcoming.